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About the 3D Sweep Panorama Mode in Some Sony Digital Cameras

October 20th, 2010 · 7 Comments · Shooting in 3D

By now you probably know that Sony still does not have a consumer digital camera that can take 3D pictures, for example like the Fujifilm’s Real 3D W1/W3 cameras, but instead has opted out for a somewhat creative approach until they are ready to release such full fledged 3D-capable product. Sony’s engineers have further advanced the Sweep Panorama mode available in some of their digital cameras in order for the user to be able to easily take 3D photos and have ingeniously called the new mode 3D Sweep Panorama. At the moment there are number of Sony products that do have support for that mode and these include both digital cameras from the CyberShot and Alpha series and to be more specific here is a list: Sony CyberShot WX5 and TX9, Sony Alpha NEX-3 and NEX-5, Sony Alpha 33 and Alpha 55, Sony Alpha 560 and Alpha 580. If you have any of these digital cameras you will be able to take advantage of the 3D Sweep Panorama to take 3D panoramic photos as the name of the function suggests, but let me take a bit more detailed look in what exactly you get and can do with that special mode…

First let me start with the fact that the name 3D Sweep Panorama is a bit misleading and actually creates some confusion among most of the users, making them believe that this mode can only be used to take stereoscopic 3D panorama photos. However you can also use the 3D Sweep Panorama mode in order to take non-panoramic 3D photos that don’t span across wide viewing angles, but are more like a normal 3D photo you can take with a 3D digital camera. However if you ask some general people that have heard about this mode, even some Sony guys that are not very familiar with this specific function and surprisingly enough even some people that do have a 3D Sweep Panorama capable camera you may get mixed results and most likely quite a lot of them will be unaware of the fact that the cameras can also take 3D pictures that are not in the form of a panorama. The reason for that is first the fact that the name is a bit misleading, the fact that all the press materials about the availability of the function are only talking about panoramic 3D capabilities and the not so intuitive implementation you have in order to change the mode. In order to be able to shoot stereo 3D photos you will have to switch to the 3D Sweep Panorama mode and from the Image Size menu select 16:9 mode instead of Normal or Wide panorama…

Of course if you read the manual carefully you should be aware of that function, but who reads the full manual of any product nowadays. The other option is to play for a while with a 3D Sweep Panorama-capable digital camera and try different things in order for you to discover the presence of that mode by yourself. Last weekend I had the chance to play with some of the Sony digital cameras that do support the 3D Sweep Panorama mode and I myself have discovered the availability of the 16:9 mode for shooting 3D photos instead of wide 3D panoramas. And then I’ve also checked the electronic manuals to confirm it and I can say that I’m pretty knowledgeable in the area of 3D technology, not to mention that I do try to follow all 3D-related product and service announcements. And I was aware of the mode, what it does and how it is working, but apparently not well enough to know about the 16:9 3D photo mode and I’m pretty sure that a lot of the general public is also not aware about that too.

But anyway, the positive result form tinkering for a while with the 3D Sweep Panorama mode on the Sony cameras you will see here on the blog pretty soon… I’m talking about replicating the same results with a camera that does not support that mode from Sony or form another manufacturer. Being able to make 3D photos and 3D panoramas with a plain 2D digital camera is not a hard task, provided that you follow some simple rules and do some quick and easy processing with the 2D photos you take. I’ll get back with more details about that in another post of course and now let me return to the 3D Sweep Panorama mode.

As you should know taking a 3D photo requires you to shoot the same scene twice with a bit of a horizontal offset between each photo, so if you have a camera with two separate sensors you can automate the process and do it with at the same time. However you you need to replicate that with a 2D camera that has just one sensor you can just move the camera a bit on the left/right after you take the first photo and then take the second one. But thanks to the consecutive shooting modes available in almost all modern digital cameras you are able to shoot photos with a speed of a few frames per second, and if you add a horizontal movement of the camera to left/right while you hold the button to shoot multiple photos on the camera you can pretty much automate that process. Add a bit of processing after that of the photos that were taken and you pretty much get the basic functionality of the 3D Sweep Panorama mode, of course Sony has packaged that into a nice and simple to use mode for pretty much anyone that can use a digital camera.

And while with a little practice you can learn to get pretty good results with the 3D Sweep Panorama mode, you should be aware that it is not a true replacement for a 3D camera as it does have its own limitations and specifics. For example it is not applicable for use with moving objects as you take multiple photos for a few seconds and then they are being combined into a single 3D photo and if something has changed its position between two different frames it will not look very good when stitched and watched in stereo 3D mode. Another specific is that you usually get flatter looking 3D photos and you generally can’t shoot objects that are too close or too far from you, although you can still achieve some very nice looking results and by adding a bit of 3D theory and with some practice it is not a feature to have for making 3D photos. And with a Sony Alpha you can get much less noise on a 3D photo if you compare to Fuji’s W1 and probably W3 results… ;)

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